Buster Olney wrote a piece (insider ESPN, sorry) on June 12th with some interesting comments on realignment and the future structure of the league. Specifically Olney says that the players union is FOR a two-league 15-team structure, which means that it very well may happen along with the addition of a 2nd wild card (and possible draft slotting, and perhaps trading of draft picks) in each league when the next CBA ends.
How do you organize the league, if you were to move a new team into the AL?
1. Two division-less 15-team leagues, with the top 5 from each league making the playoffs. I call this the “Guarantee that Boston and the Yankees make the playoffs for the rest of time” plan. It certainly would make for a fairer test of the long season, and would mean that a team like Toronto would actually make the playoffs every once in a while, since they’ve been winning 85-87 games and finishing fourth. But it eliminates the whole concept of divisional play and resembles too closely the English Premier League.
2. Three 5-team divisions in each league, taking the 3 division winners and the two next best teams. Still a plan that favors the monstrous budgets in Boston and New York, but also guarantees that the five teams that spend the most aren’t necessarily going to be the 5 teams that make the playoffs.
Who switches leagues? It is obviously a NL team. Perhaps its easier to start with the teams that will NOT move leagues based on history:
- Philly, Atlanta, the Mets, St Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, the Cubs, San Francisco, the Dodgers.
Also, Geographically speaking the 4-team AL West is almost certainly the division that needs to be augmented, which more or less eliminates the Nats, the Marlins (despite what Olney’s sources say. If the Marlins moved to the AL, what division would they join?), and the Brewers (despite their having already switched leagues in recent memory).
- Houston: Houston Chronicle (and former WP columnist) Richard Justice wrote some compelling reasons here.
- Arizona: Has a WS victory, probably not going to move, despite its WS victory seemingly accomplished on the backs of FA acquisitions. They had the chance to move in the mid 90s and declined. They have an AL style ball park, offensively heavy, and could fit in nicely with the existing AL west.
- Colorado: one WS appearance since inception in 1992.
- San Diego: in the NL West since inception in 1969. Two world series appearances. Budget constrained and would probably struggle to compete in the AL west.
Plus, if you moved someone out of any division except the NL Central, then immediately Houston would become a member of the NL West to replace whoever left. By moving Houston once, you end the divisional disruption. In fact, the more you look at it, the more you realize that Houston is really the only logical candidate to move.
Downsides to this plan? Interleague play all year. But really, perhaps the real answer is to eliminate the whole interleague nonsense and go towards a more NFL-style schedule where the lines are blurred. In every other pro league the two “leagues” all play each other all year.
DH or no DH? Perhaps it is just time to admit the obvious and go with all DHs and eliminate pitchers from hitting altogether. The union wants it (it keeps older sluggers employed for longer periods of time), Fans want it (nobody likes seeing a weak #8 hitter get intentionally walked to get an automatic out of a pitcher). About the only people who do NOT want it are good-hitting hitters like Livan and NL starters who get somewhere in the range of 30-40 extra strikeouts per year facing their counter parts.